Learning Spanish isn’t an easy task. There is a lot of work that goes into learning a new language well enough to feel confident in one’s abilities to communicate. Whether reading, writing, or speaking, all the rules that come with the Spanish language can seem difficult to memorize, but putting all that hard work will be worth it.

Once you get past some of these challenges, you’ll get to learn about all the fun and quirky things that the Spanish language involves. An example of this sort of Spanish “quirkiness” is how one simple word in Spanish can mean one thing in one country and mean something completely different in another country. Here are 10 examples of these regional variations.

1. Tío/Tía

In Latin American countries, such as Argentina, El Salvador, and Mexico, this term is used to refer to an uncle or an aunt. But in Spain, besides that familiar definition, tio or tia can be used as a way to refer to a friend, like the words dude or girl, as in “Dang, girl!”

Spanish Words
1. Tío/Tía

2. Guagua

No, this is not the way a baby says agua (water) in Spanish. This term, in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, is used to refer to a bus. In other countries, like Peru, Ecuador and Chile, guagua actually does mean baby. So if you say you are going feed the guagua while in Puerto Rico, don’t be surprised if you get funny looks.


3. Mono/mona

Usually mono or mona is how you say monkey in Spanish. But in some Spanish-speaking countries, like Cuba, mona can be a way to describe someone, let’s say a baby, who is pretty or cute. In other countries, Colombia, mona can double as slang for someone who is blonde.

4. Buzo

Like to go deep sea diving? Buzo is the Spanish word for diver, but in Argentina it means something completely different: a sweatshirt. Similarly in Chile and Costa Rica, this word is used to refer to sweatpants. It can also be used to describe someone who is really good at doing something. ¡Sí que es buzo para la matemáticas! – He is really good at doing math!

5. Chucho

Chucho, in most Spanish-speaking countries, means dog or mutt. In slang terms, this word can also be used to refer to someone who is stingy. In Argentina, chucho can mean cold, while in Chile it is used to also refer to jail.

6. Coche

In Spain, coche is just another way to say car, but in Chile this word can be used to describe a stroller, usually a baby stroller. So you would be putting el guagua en el coche. In some countries, coche can also refer to carriages, like a royal carriage. When traveling to Guatemala, keep in mind that coche, in slang terms, means pig, instead of car!

7. Torta.

Both in Spain and a large part of Latin America, torta usually refers to cake, a sweet and delicious treat. In Mexico, on the other hand, a torta is a sandwich. Fun fact: in Spain, torta doesn’t have to just mean cake, it can also mean slapping someone. Ouch!

8. Perilla

This word, perilla, most often is used to refer to the knob of a drawer or door, but in Spain this word can also be what you call a goatee. So if a girl compliments your perilla, she’s not talking about your doorknob at home!

9. Rubia

In Latin American countries, rubia is used to refer to a blonde female. But in Uruguay that rubia isn’t a blonde female, it’s a bottle of beer! Bottoms up!

10. Fresa

Fresa, for the most part, is the translation for a red berry with seeds on the outside instead of the inside. Did you guess a strawberry? Because that’s right! In Mexico, fresa isn’t just translated to mean strawberry, it can be used as slang for a conceited and egocentric person.

Carina Escobar

Carina supports the public relations and marketing efforts at Diáfano, an education company responsible for the design and implementation of corporate level Spanish classes and programs through the Diáfano Method. Carina grew up in a bilingual household, which exposed her to the culture, customs, and language differences and similarities between English and Spanish. Depending on who she is talking to, she often finds herself switching between English and Spanish throughout the day. This has made it easier for her to relate to those who are learning either language. Besides English and Spanish, Carina is a current learner of Mandarin. Check her out at www.diafanomethod.com.

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